Baklava, the perfect ice breaker

I was planning to go away for the weekend to my husband’s annual cousins’ weekend, an event which started out years ago as a guys’ weekend, but which now includes the girls who want to join in.  I especially wanted to see my younger son who no longer lives at home and my nephew and his girlfriend who now live on the opposite coast.  I tried to get the time off from work but scrambling the schedule didn’t pan out, despite the generous efforts of teammates who were willing to switch shifts and cover for me.

I felt disappointed, but also looked forward to an open weekend around work, especially since I wasn’t scheduled to work on Sunday.  An invitation arrived via Facebook to a local musical gathering on Friday night which included the people who will be taking over the café building I once occupied.  I was tired after a busy Friday shift — which everyone agreed included more crazy customers than usual — but decided to at least stop in even though I couldn’t stay late with an early shift the following morning.

I am a late bloomer to the live music scene and possess little knowledge of bands that for many people defined their youth.  This was a Grateful Dead tribute; none of the songs on the playlist were familiar to me, but what great music!  The evening was so uplifting, I hated to leave when I knew I should.  People were talking about another party happening the next day, and the hostess, whom I knew from my café days, invited me to come.

Sleeping did not come easy, knowing how early I had to wake up, but despite that, work went well.  At lunch I mentioned the party to a co-worker and said I doubted I would go, so tired, although worrying if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t be invited in the future.  By shift end I felt so tired it was difficult driving home.  I laid down on a deck lounge chair and rested, noticing the dark clouds overhead didn’t match my phone’s insistence on 83 degrees and sunny all day.

The darkening skies mirrored my energy level.  Do I really want to go to a party?  Talk to people I don’t know after interacting all day with strangers at work?  Maybe I’m beyond the party scene, more comfortable just staying home as usual.  But then, there’s no party tomorrow, maybe I’ll be bored and sorry to have missed it.

The party was pot luck and I didn’t know what to bring, until I remembered a baklava pastry ready to bake in the freezer.  I never bake baklava straight from the freezer, would it turn out ok?  I always bake it a day ahead, would it be any good served warm?   The party started hours ago, would it still be going on by the time I baked and got there?  The pan was in the way in the freezer, why not just give it a try.

Where once I’d spend all day planning what to wear to a party, now I just changed from jeans to shorts, keeping on my work Polo.  I waited for the baklava to come out of the oven, by which time it was pouring outside with weather channel flash flood warnings and predicted hard rain all evening.  Would the party still be going on in this weather?

Thank goodness for GPS, I never would have found the place without it.  Cars were parked all over, my car’s reverse camera helped me back into a spot I hoped my Jeep could climb out of later.  So what if my hair completely frizzed out as I found my way into the house in the pouring rain with my warm baklava, good thing I was wearing flip flops.

The few people I knew welcomed me, as did a dazzling food table. Almost immediately, people came up to say how much they loved the baklava and remembered my café (nothing makes a good Greek happier than when someone likes what we cook).  I met a couple whose two daughters worked for me and so loved hearing how they’re doing now and that one of them is using what she learned at my shop in her current work.  Her mom also shared how my baklava was her father’s favorite treat in his last days.

And the music!  I must learn to play another instrument, maybe drums, maybe guitar, something!  I wanted to join these people who get together to play and sing and let it all out.  I felt the positive energy in every cell of my body.  This, I realized, was precisely the kind of “deep play” Martha Beck advises in her book Finding Your Way in a Wild New World.  I could sense its effect.  My former, then seemingly sedate, café website designer, picked up playing bass a couple of years ago with his old high school band buddies and seems looser, liberated.  Me too, please!

Preparing to leave, I received a few more baklava kudos, and we laughed as one woman actually picked up and licked the empty pan (sugar is a drug!).  Oh positivity.  I can’t say when I’ve ever so enjoyed a party, and I gratefully thanked the host and hostess who invited me to always come (I will!).  The whole evening felt like a dance, somehow, floating through the evening from one conversation to another, just … being myself.

I slept in after a great night’s sleep looking forward to the entire free day ahead.  What shall I do?  I’d like to have breakfast at the diner, but go alone?  Sure, why not?

Arguing with Reality

I’m listening to Byron Katie’s Loving What Is, the latest book in my ongoing search for self-understanding, spiritual growth, finding my path, learning how to be happy being the real me and all that stuff.  I want to make the most of what’s left of my life since passing the 60 mark has raised the red flag of how much time is left, what do I really want to do, hurry up and figure it out already.

Byron Katie’s work is based on a familiar chorus — it’s not them it’s you — and her approach is unique.  It’s called “The Work” and is based on asking yourself four questions to help guide you to a new mindset about any situation that is causing you (you are causing you) distress.

I’m only on Chapter 5, and I’m not instantly grasping the ah-ha of what she’s saying, but a couple of points are sticking, which became apparent on this morning’s track walk.  This track, with its high quality cushioned surface and sweeping views, is offered for public use by a local private high school when they are not using it.  I feel so fortunate to have it at my disposal, I suppose I’ve gotten a bit protective.  So when I see people abusing what I consider a great privilege, I get upset.

A large white sign in the adjacent parking lot states simple rules for its use, including  hours it’s open to the public, what kind of shoes are allowed, no wheels of any kind and no animals to name a few requirements.  And there’s a swing bar hanging across the first four of six lanes with the painted message “Please use outside lanes.”

Twice this week I’ve seen this one woman walking and jogging along the inside lanes.  This incenses me.  I feel like the Track Police and want to confront her as she’s walking around the swing bar to move to the inside lanes.  I argue with myself trying to come up with a way to say something, somehow, that might have a positive result, but I can’t.  I’m thinking she shouldn’t be using the inside lanes!  How dare she?  Does she think she’s special?  What reason could she possibly have for ignoring this simple rule?  Does she not appreciate how fortunate she is to have this track for her use?

Byron Katie would say two things right off the bat.  One, whose business am I in while being upset over this?  It’s not my business, it’s her business and the school’s business.  Right there, I’m causing myself grief and not living my own life, enjoying my own walk, because I’m putting myself in other peoples’ business.  Second, Byron Katie would say I’m arguing with reality because thinking “she should stay in the outside lanes” (!!) is an untrue statement because obviously she is not doing so.  Byron Katie would say “a dog barks, a cat meows and this woman walks in the inside lanes,” that’s reality.  Arguing with reality only causes the arguer pain.

I get these points and feel calmed enough not to let this ruin my walk.  I soothe myself by thinking up reasons why her behavior may be all right, anyhow.  Maybe she hasn’t noticed the message on the swing bar.  Maybe she thinks the sign only refers to the straight parts, not the curves of the track, since that’s where she’s cutting in.  Maybe she is somehow connected to the school or has received permission to use the track this way.  Maybe the school really doesn’t care that much either way.  Good for me, I can see possibilities other than she’s a jerk and I want it to stop.

I try to dismiss the whole business, but a whole other train of thought emerges.  Are we really supposed to ignore all behavior?  Aren’t we supposed to care about what’s best for the greater good?  What if the school sees that people are abusing the track and decides to close it down?  Wouldn’t that be bad for all the good people who do follow the rules?  Now I’m breaking the rules of someone else’s book about staying in the “now” and not projecting into the future.  Ugh!

I pass this woman as she’s stopped, focusing on her phone, or stopwatch or something.  I almost take a step toward her to say something, but change my mind.  Even if I handled the conversation perfectly, which I’m not likely to do, it’s bound to cause me more angst than I’m already causing myself.  I walk on and actually forget about her for awhile.

Then I see her in Lane One one more time and my untrained brain takes over.  Look at her, who does she think she is?  All sweaty, as if she’s working so hard cutting the corners of every lap, checking her watch as if she’s some kind of athlete.  She looks out of shape and probably shouldn’t be running at all.

I’ve got a lot to learn.


Counting Comfort Not Pain

I was walking the track on a picture-perfect day, blue sky, not too hot, no humidity,  enjoying the day yet feeling a bit sorry for myself.  I’ve been working out on this track for over three years since discovering it’s the ideal exercise for me, combining cardio, strength training and scream therapy as I sing and dance my way around the track, lap after lap, losing myself in the rhythm as I enjoy the beauty of nature around me.  Lately, though, all I’ve noticed are the pains I’ve developed from the same motion I enjoy so much.

It’s bad enough I can no longer swing around or even comfortably carry hand weights since I fell and broke my shoulder two winters ago.  Now I have a rigid joint in my right foot called “hallux rigidus,” which sounds sexy but definitely isn’t, that constantly hurts, although it’s more painful if I don’t walk.  Sometime last summer I developed a pain in my upper left hamstring that kept me from walking at all for months, much longer than I thought it should have taken to heal.  Now I can’t keep pace with the music I once danced along to, and the hamstring acts up well before I want to stop walking.

It all seems so unfair, woe is me and all that.  So I’m walking and reminding myself to focus on tightening my core, at least I can work on a flat stomach even if my legs and arms won’t cooperate.  I see a man joining the walk, someone I’ve seen every summer since I started.  He walks slowly, very slowly.  He wears black knee high socks with his shorts, and I always tease him that it’s hot, he should get white ones, and he always responds these special socks, for his neuropathy, only come in black.  He calls me “young lady” but I think he must notice my gray hair or how I don’t bounce around like I once did.

I slow down to greet him and mention how annoyed I feel that I can’t do what I used to.  He tells me he has to walk every day or else his legs get stiff.  He had total knee replacement four years ago and doesn’t want to go through that again.  Then he tells me as bad as that surgery was, it wasn’t nearly as bad as his bypass or when he had to have a lung removed.  A tumor was found in his lung only by accident when he had a staph infection.  He’s had cancer a few times, the first time cost him a couple of toes — a melanoma that he figures came from a really bad sunburn he once got in college.

He worked as an accountant for 40 years before retiring after his bypass surgery.  I’m seeing him as if for the first time, not as a senior citizen taking daily walks to keep his legs moving, but as a young man laying on the grass in the sunshine and later spending years going to work, fulfilling an important role in some business endeavor.  “I’m 72 now, happy to be here breathing,” he says.

I start to move ahead, on with my walk.  He says something about my “cool sunglasses.”  I answer, walking backwards, that I need them to protect my eyes – glaucoma.  He has that too, he says, but he hasn’t had the surgery yet, his cataracts aren’t bad enough.  I slow back down to tell him I’ve had that surgery, it’s a piece of cake.

He waves as he leaves the track, “I’ve had enough fun for one day.”  Somehow my leg and foot aren’t bothering me quite so much and I comfortably walk another two laps, farther than I’ve gone in awhile.  I suddenly feel very happy to be 61 and walking the track, even if I can’t be dancing it like I used to.  I have to find out if those socks really don’t come in white.


Listen when the Universe calls

You may remember me complaining about wrong numbers on our land line because our number matches the first seven digits of the toll-free number for Medicaid Transportation in our area.  We’ve gotten used to so many wrong numbers that we hardly answer that phone, only keeping it because it’s tied into our alarm system.  Usually I just look at the caller ID to see whether the ringing phone is a “real” call or not.

My voice mail message (tersely) alerts the caller they may have the wrong number and suggests they try dialing 1 first.  I often then hear the beep of pressing 1, or they hang up and call again.  Frequently the caller doesn’t speak English, or they sound elderly, infirm, or all of the above.  Sometimes I come home and find full length messages from people stating their name and the time and date of their needed ride.  I usually press delete and get on with my day.

I guess I felt I did what I could to help, alerting agencies and providers of the issue and concluded that was the limit of my responsibility.  Still, I occasionally pick up the phone, especially if the same person calls repeatedly.  Lately a few people said they tried dialing 1 but got a message that the phone number is no longer in service.  A new wrinkle, yet not quite catching my full attention.  I replied with shrugged shoulders, “Sorry, this is a private residence (!!),” hung up, and got on with my day.

Yesterday the phone rang three times in a row with the same name popping up on the caller ID.  In frustration from the constant ringing (don’t I get enough of that torture at work??), I picked up the phone.  I tried my usual speech about dialing 1, and the woman said she got the no-longer-in-service message.  I turned around and googled Medicaid Transportation on my computer which is right in front of the telephone.  “Oh, thank you,” she said, “I don’t have a computer.”  It had not occurred to me that someone could not be able to do what is second nature to me.

After a few searches – it’s not so easy to navigate government agencies even for the computer savvy — I found the list of numbers for Medicaid Transportation by county.  The number she had was off by one, the last, digit.  I asked her where she had gotten that number, she said a social worker gave it to her.  Perhaps she copied the number wrong, or perhaps it’s wrong on some list somewhere.  I suggested she let the social worker know about the error.  She promised she would.

The woman thanked me over and over.  In perfect English.  I gratefully received her blessings and thought how nice for me, I had done my good deed for the day and was rewarded.  Then I felt an intuitive knock on my head.  Here I am supposedly surrendering to Divine guidance, saying I wish to be of service, asking to be an instrument for the greater good in whatever way I may be called.  Could the call be any clearer?